A Tesla Model S being manufactured at the Tesla Factory
|Headquarters||Fremont, California, United States|
|Products||Battery electric vehicles|
Number of employees
The Tesla Factory is an automobile manufacturing plant in south Fremont, California, and the principal production facility of Tesla, Inc.. The facility was formerly known as New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI), a joint venture between General Motors and Toyota. The plant is located in the East Industrial area of Fremont between Interstates 880 and 680, and employed around 10,000 people in June 2018.
Tesla had planned for an assembly factory in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as a central location for shipping. Construction was supposed to begin in April 2007, but was canceled.
A separate greenfield factory to be built in San Jose, California was also announced. However, the cost was prohibitive, and the company looked for alternatives. Tesla initially also dismissed NUMMI for being too big and costly.
Some of the current facility was operated as the GM Fremont Assembly from 1962 to 1982, and between 1984-2009 used as a plant for New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI), a joint venture between General Motors and Toyota producing 357,809 cars and trucks in 1997. Efforts to continue the site after 2010 included Aurica EVs, state incentives to Toyota, and a stadium, but none of them succeeded. The mayor of Fremont viewed the site as dead.
The plant is located in the South Fremont District between the Warm Springs BART station and the California State Route 262 connecting I880 and I680. Union Pacific Railroad has tracks at the plant delivering finished cars. Rail freight transport is also to be used to receive batteries and Model 3 drivetrains from Gigafactory 1.
On May 20, 2010, Tesla Inc. and Toyota announced a partnership to work on electric vehicle development and collaborate on the "development of electric vehicles, parts, and production system and engineering support". This included Tesla's partial purchase of the former NUMMI site, mainly consisting of the factory building, for $42 million.
Tesla officially took possession of the site on October 19, 2010, and opened it on October 27. The state of California has supported the renewal, expecting tax income from sustained jobs. The first retail delivery of the Tesla Model S took place during a special event held at the Tesla Factory on June 22, 2012.
NUMMI auctioned off the press lines, robots and other equipment to Toyota's other US factories while Tesla purchased over $17 million of manufacturing equipment and spare parts in 2011, at significant discounts compared to new equipment. Tesla bought $50 million worth of Schuler SMG hydraulic stamping press lines used from Detroit for $6 million, including shipping costs.
The factory was about 10 times the size Tesla initially needed, and much of the 370-acre (16,000,000 sq ft; 1,500,000 m2) site was unused in 2013, with most activity concentrated in the 5,500,000-square-foot (510,000 m2) main building that does the final assembly of vehicles.
Various parts of the NUMMI plant were planned to be modified to support Tesla vehicle production. For example, the passenger vehicle paint equipment was to be extensively modified through late 2011; converted from solvents to BASF water-based paint. Two paint lines (one car body, one component) were constructed from 2015.
The floors, walls and ceiling are painted white with skylights and high-efficiency lighting to create an environment similar to a laboratory, and the production environment is cleaner and quieter than at NUMMI.
In 2016, there were 4,500 parking spaces, and Tesla purchased a neighboring 25-acre site from housing developer Lennar. Tesla announced in August 2017 it won approval from the Fremont City Council to double the size of the facility with about 4.6 million new square feet of space. Tesla also plans to expand production five-fold to 500,000 vehicles in 2018, or 10,000 units per week.
Tesla started production with 1,000 workers. By 2013, this had risen to 3,000, and to 6,000 people in June 2016. In 2016, preparing for Model 3 production, Tesla planned to increase their work force to about 9,000 people. In fall of 2017, Tesla employed some 10,000 at the Fremont plant, a number still being shared in June 2018.
In addition to Tesla employees, the company uses contractors for various functions. In May 2018, Elon Musk, in an apparent goal of reducing dead weight and raising efficiency and quality within its operation, decided to cut contractors and sub-contractors, ordering staff to justify and personally vouch for contractors worth keeping.
In 2011, Tesla transitioned from 20 hand-assembled "alpha builds" to 50 "beta builds", production-validation vehicles built entirely at the Tesla Factory. These cars would also be used for system integration, engineering testing, and federal crash-testing and certification. Tesla expected to produce about 5,000 Model S sedans in 2012, with production ramping up to 20,000 in 2013 if necessary. The first retail delivery of the Model S took place during a special event held at the Tesla Factory on June 22, 2012.
Deliveries reached 6,892 units in the last three months of 2013. In December 2013, California announced it would give Tesla a US$34.7 million tax break to expand production by an estimated 35,000 vehicles annually from its Fremont, California plant.
Tesla announced that production was expected to climb from 600 cars per week in early 2014 to about 1,000 units per week by year-end. Tesla produced 7,535 units during the first quarter of 2014, and expected to produce 8,500 to 9,000 cars in the second quarter of 2014. As of early May 2014, the production rate was 700 cars per week.
Production of the Model X joined the Model S during 2015, following a short reconfiguration of the production line in July 2014. The first Model X that didn't need corrections was made in April 2016. Tesla moved some of the equipment to their Tilburg final assembly plant in the Netherlands in 2015.
In May 2016 Tesla raised $1.46 billion in stock, of which $1.26 billion is to prepare production of the Model 3 scheduled for late 2017. Changing from serially producing the Model S and X to the mass production of Model 3 is viewed by experts as a significant step. Tesla stated in May 2016 that it does not have that capability and needs to acquire it, which it partly did with the acquisition of Grohmann Automation in 2016. Whereas the Roadster was delayed by 9 months, the Model S more than six months, and the Model X more than 18 months, analysts estimated in December 2016 that the Model 3 production preparation was on schedule for the second half of 2017.
On August 3, 2016, Tesla announced that it was consistently producing 2,000 vehicles per week at the end of Q2 2016. About 2,500 workers operate the day shift and 2,000 attend the night shift.
Tesla makes many parts itself, which is unusual in the auto business. Tesla also works with 300 suppliers around the world, of which 50 are in Northern California, and 10 in the San Francisco Bay Area. Tesla's dashboard supplier SAS rents a 142,188-square-foot building near the factory, beginning in January 2017 with 200 employees. Other suppliers to have opened facilities in the area to be close to Tesla include Eclipse Automation and Futuris Automotive Group.
Tesla Model S manufacturing process
The manufacturing process uses more than 160 specialist robots, including 10 of the largest robots in the world, which are named after X-Men characters. Many of the Model S's unique components, including the battery pack, battery module, and drive units are manufactured in-house. The plant has a high level of integration compared with other modern car assembly plants, with most processes taking place within the Tesla Factory. This includes most of the stamping and machining, painting, and some coding. The hydraulic press lines used to stamp 5,000 body panels per day with a force of 10,000 tonnes, are the largest in North America and the 6th largest in the world. Around 60% of the car parts are sourced from North America, while Japan is the second-biggest source of components as of March 2015. Design engineers also work at the factory itself, rather than a separate facility.
Each vehicle is made to order with a two to three-month wait time for delivery, although individual vehicles only take between three and five days to complete the assembly process. The assembly line moves at a speed of 5 cm/s. Tesla prefers delivery by train rather than by truck, as costs and damages are less.
Drive unit construction
The motor construction begins when a robot unspools and winds over 1⁄2 mile (0.80 km) of copper wire per motor. It then pulls the copper wire into a stack. The motor has three phases and so requires three coils of copper. A worker then lengthens and straightens each bundle of wire and inserts the hydraulic lift to transfer the motor to the next station.
A worker insulates each bundle of copper wire in a plastic sleeve to prevent the bundles from touching one another. The ends of the bundles are then snipped to the correct length. Lugs are added and crimped to form attachment points for the motor's three phases. A specialized automatic sewing machine then binds the coils together to keep them in place, the increased tightness of the binding provided by a robotic sewing machine increases the efficiency of the motor. The stator is then encased in a two part epoxy resin to help in evenly distributing the motor's heat. The stator is now complete and is inserted into a heated metal case, locking the stator inside as the case cools.
A worker uses a hoisting system to insert the rotor inside the stator completing the construction of the motor.
Additional drive unit components
A worker then installs the differential and other sections of the gearbox, attaching it together using bolts. An air leak test is then conducted. The three phase tripole power inverter is then installed onto the top of the motor to convert direct current from the battery into alternating current for the motor to use. The motor then undergoes a series of automated tests taking 4 minutes to ensure correct function, and then is moved to the general assembly area to be installed into the car.
Battery pack construction
The Model S 85s battery pack contains 7,104 '18650' lithium-ion battery cells in 16 modules wired in series (14 in the flat section and two stacked on the front). Each module contains six groups of 74 cells wired in parallel; the six groups are then wired in series within the module. As of June 2012 the battery pack uses modified Panasonic NCR18650A 3100mAh cells with nickel-cobalt-aluminum cathodes.
The use of commodity cells, similar to those found in laptops and mobile phones, is in contrast to every other electric vehicle manufacturer who use specialized large format Li-Ion cells. The liquid-cooled battery pack uses an intumescent gel to aid in fireproofing and even heat distribution.
Aluminium coil blanking
98% of the Tesla Model S body is constructed from aluminium and is produced from between 50 and 60 separate coils of aluminium each for various components. The coils are unwound, flattened and cut in a blanking machine; additional cutting is also done using laser cutter. The total weight of the aluminium used in the Model S is around 410 pounds (190 kg).
Tandem press lines
A robot then transfers the aluminium blanks into the tandem press lines where the sheets are stamped into the various panels of the cars. The Schuler SMG hydraulic stamping press line is the largest in North America and the 6th largest in the world. The presses use up to 11,000 ton-force to form the body panels; the upper section applies 1400 tonnes of downward force and the lower section 130 tonnes. The blank aluminium sheet is stretched over the lower draw die and openings are cut with robots transferring the panels between processes. The workers then inspect each panel to ensure correct pressing. The parts are then stacked in frames and stored. The machines press one part every 6 seconds and create 5,000 parts per day.
Drive unit installation
Battery pack installation
The battery pack weighs almost 1,200 pounds (540 kg) and is delivered to the installation area and is raised into the car using a lift. Placing the battery pack under the cabin floor adds strength and rigidity to the car and lowers the vehicle's center of gravity to 18 inches (46 cm). A titanium plate is installed over the battery pack which protects it in the event of a high-speed collision and to protect from road debris.
In November 2013 there was an accident when the low-pressure aluminum casting press failed, spilling molten metal on three workers and causing their clothing to catch fire. Tesla was fined US$89,000 by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health for seven safety violations, six considered serious.
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We know from the diagnosis screen that the 85 kWh pack has 16 modules with 6 groups in series (so 96 groups in series):
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- Blanco, Sebastian (2014-03-28). "Tesla adds free titanium underbody shields to Model S to prevent fires". Autoblog Green. AOL Inc. Retrieved 2014-03-31.
- "Tesla Motors faces $89,000 in fines for incident that injured workers at Fremont facility". San Jose Mercury News. 2014-05-01. Retrieved 2014-12-31.
- Official website
- The Tesla Factory: Birthplace of the Model S Tesla Motors photo tour
- Stamping, body, paint, automated motor production, assembly, factory upgrade (official Tesla)
- How Tesla Builds Electric Cars, A 3-part documentary on the Tesla Factory from Wired magazine
- "Brand New Tesla Factory", National Geographic video; Documentary on YouTube by National Geographic Channel Megafactories
- NPR's This American Life's full hour story of the creation and demise of NUMMI - episode #403 from This American Life